Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Token (Alisa Kwitney)

If you let them, the books that DC publishing house Minx produce can take on the narrative quality of an F My Life page (not sure what that is? Google it, but don't say I didn't warn you). You're supposed to believe that each story comes from a different author, so why does it feel like they're being churned out by some drooling, betentacled hive mind?

The idea behind Minx is that girls in the West are drawn to the comics/graphic novel medium, but don't know where to go to read voices they can relate to. In Japan, for instance, the terms Shonen and Shojo exist for the purpose of delineating comics designed to appeal to boy interests (shonen) and ones designed for girl interests (shojo). They figured that out long ago. But in the West there's no defining terminology beyond the pre-established genre headings that apply to all fiction (romance, sci-fi, horror, lit, etc.).

Minx's tagline is "Your Life. Your Books. How Novel." As if curt, tacky puns are what every young woman aspires to.

What Minx does manage to achieve, despite the blur-drizzle narratives, is a collection of books that address a wide-ranging variety of young women from different social, racial, sexual, and financial backgrounds. And I'll hand it to them for being the first publishing house that comes to mind when I think about books that deal with lesbianism.

Alisa Kwitney's Token, however, might be the exception that proves the rule (is that image meant to look like a pie chart of teen romance cliches? And why is her dad's arm six feet long?).

Until I read Token I was at least quietly bemused by the standard voice and pacing and artistic ability on display in Minx books, and entertained by the variety of adventures these budding young dames found themselves in. But here, it's almost as if the executives reached a point where they realized, "Hey, we don't always have to be pushing the envelope. Let's just tell a boring as mud, average, run of the mill romance story with no surprises or dramatic depth. We've earned it."

I hope most girls will be insulted by the story of a drop-dead gorgeous teen, Shira, who believes she's uncool and ugly for no explained reason, attracts the interest and romance of a shoplifting Spanish boy who looks like he might've slipped and fallen of the cover of a GQ catalogue, as well as the interest of a group of (gasp!) mean girl schoolmates. Stop me if I'm blowing your mind. I mean, who comes up with this stuff?

So Shira decides to start shoplifting. Maybe in retaliation to her lawyer father becoming romantically linked to his secretary. Maybe to get closer to the glitzy movie stars from the 50s who she daydreams about and obsesses over. Maybe just to feel alive! Who cares! If the thieving served any purpose besides to attract the Spanish boy's attention, and to set up a plot conclusion, it may have been worth the inclusion, but Kwitney doesn't bother to connect the dots between Shira's psychological state, the reality of her life, and the symbolism behind an addiction to stealing, and feeling like a token.

The saving grace comes in the form of a group of old ladies in Shira's life, her grandmother and her grandmother's friends. Their dialogue is witty, uplifting, unexpected and inventive. If the book had turned itself on its ear and taken the perspective of Shira's best friend, aging, retired actress, Minerva, it could've reached something approaching valuable.

As it stands, you just want to ditch Token in Shira's box of meaningless stolen treasures.

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